Neoskilling: Avoid ethical compromise in decision making

Neoskilling helps executives avoid push growth at the cost of due diligence, by enabling them to appreciate subtle nuances and manage paradoxes

Updated: Apr 17, 2019 01:24:10 PM UTC
Image: Shutterstock

The recent controversy around the Boeing 737 MAX has highlighted the extreme cost of pushing growth at the cost of due diligence. Under pressure to deliver, we should not become strategically Myopic, INtellectually IMpoverished and Ethically Challenged (MINIMEC).

Going by media reports and Boeing’s own statements, in a duopolistic market with fuel efficiency as a key business driver, the company was pushed hard to develop a modern aircraft to beat its competition.

Strategically, it made sense to re-engineer a proven aircraft, crunching the time taken to develop a new product. That made Boeing adopt a better engine, a bigger one with a larger diameter. The position of the larger engine was altered to make it fit on the wing. Aerodynamically, this pushed the nose of the aircraft a bit more. The Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS) system was the intellectually thought out solution, to keep the pitching of the nose under control, with a software to do it autonomously. There was an issue of training in some cases, with pilots not knowing how to handle the situation and override the MCAS system.

In the rush to show growth year after year, leaders are being be pushed to take short cuts, as several examples across industries globally have shown.

This is where neoskilling plays a role. Neoskilling is the proactive development of new skills and capabilities, not just for today’s but considering futuristic industry needs in the digital era. It will ensure that the spirit of the policies is imbibed, over and beyond the letter or the literal interpretation.

The question now is whether the company compromised its ethics to get the new product out faster in the market. Did Boeing bypass any of the Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA) certification process? It is clearly a situation of the MINIMEC trap. Would it have been strategically prudent to go for a new aircraft or more rigorous testing? Should more effort have put in to share the details behind the MCAS system to train every airline and its pilots before launching it?

The more important question is how to avoid such a situation in future, not just in aviation, but other industries too. There is a thin line between smart business acumen and in being unethical.

Corporate governance will eventually define where this line is drawn. Business leaders need to ensure that the policies defined in it are followed to the T, and not compromised at any point of time. Governance need not be cast in stone and should have its own closed-loop process for ongoing feedback and to take into account changes in the scenario to adopt accordingly.

The strategically MINIMEC, imperceptive individual views the organisation strictly as a mechanical system to be assembled like Lego blocks, rather than appreciating Gareth Morgan’s 'organism' metaphor, thereby missing the subtle nuances of an organisation as a biological living thing, which grows, adapts and learns. In sharp contrast, Antoine de Saint-Exupery illuminates the difference between a paper shuffling administrator and transformational leader by admonishing those in positions of authority--'If you want to build a ship, don't drum up people to collect wood and don't assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.'

Organisations fall into the MINIMEC trap often because of executives with festering egos, and the organisation culture becomes an autocratic, bureaucratic political entourage. It resembles royal courts of a feudal monarchy, vis-à-vis a professional order based on meritocracy.

In a meritocratic setup, high performers are given the psychological support to push the boundaries of the possible, while working at the cutting edge. Facebook’s data misuse scandal and other transgressions happened because they were, and still are, consumed by what Simon Sinek calls the 'what' and 'how' of management, while totally ignoring the 'why' of running a business.

Neoskilling helps executives avoid the MINIMEC trap by enabling them to appreciate subtle nuances and manage paradoxes, crucial to think unconventionally. In Boeing, had the penny wise-pound foolish bean counters behaved responsibly, hundreds of lives and billions of dollars would have been saved.

L Prasad is professor at IIM Bangalore and S Ramachandran is Principal Consultant at Infosys Knowledge Institute.

The thoughts and opinions shared here are of the author.

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